Miklós Rózsa

El Cid/Ben Hur/King of Kings

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This CD was a product of the early 1980s, when there were no decent editions of the complete scores for El Cid, Ben Hur, King of Kings, or most of Miklós Rózsa's scores; and it happened just at the time that Rózsa had reached an age where he was no longer the best conductor of his own work. These recordings were made for MGM Records in the early '60s by conductor Richard Muller-Lampertz, and were resurrected for this CD release 24 years later, one of the earliest soundtrack-related compact disc releases to hit the U.S. market and, rather amazingly, remains in print as of 2006, two decades later -- though the fact that Varese Sarabande is part of the same company that owns the MGM library probably doesn't hurt. In the case of El Cid and King of Kings, the recordings here by the Hamburg Concert Orchestra and Chorus, are technically superior to the surviving soundtrack album masters and to the soundtrack album recordings themselves -- the conductor had larger forces to work with on these sides than Rózsa did for the two later soundtrack albums, and if none of the scores is represented in remotely complete editions, the highlights are present in stunning sonic form; the digital remastering is exceptional in its clarity and richness, and it makes one wonder what other parts of the MGM soundtrack and orchestral libraries -- among the most neglected of major-label archives -- might sound like if they were given this kind of treatment. Ironically enough, King of Kings, the composing of which was a most frustrating experience for Rózsa (who had just finished scoring Ben Hur, a movie on a very similar subject, but also a much better film), is the most well-represented of the three scores; that may well have been because MGM actually had two volumes of soundtrack music from the latter movie in print and selling well, and so had to resist the temptation in programming this kind of compilation to emphasize that score. The CD still sounds phenomenal, no mean feat for a disc done in the mid-'80s, and the package also includes annotation by Rózsa himself.